The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) has recovered over a quarter of a million dollars in funds it spent on fire safety projects in the community dating back to 2007.
Through FireSmart, a provincially funded program that offers tools for individuals and communities to mitigate the risk of wildfire, municipalities can recover some of the costs associated with approved fire suppression efforts such as tree thinning in sensitive areas.
The recovered funds stem from several fuel management projects undertaken by the RMOW between 2007 and 2010, including fire suppression efforts on the Lost Lake and Centennial trails in 2007, in Lost Lake Park the following year, and in Kadenwood in 2009. The total costs of those projects was over $340,000, for which the muni will receive $82,000 after the province paid out over $142,000 in progress payments in previous years.
The RMOW will receive an additional $225,000, a significant portion of the $369,000 it spent in 2010 to improve wildfire safety in the Horstman and Benchlands area, and $40,000 more for another 2010 project near the Kadenwood Gondola.
“We’ve been carrying these monies as a liability on our books so we just now reimbursed ourselves for money already spent,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who can count on almost $350,000 in total recovered funds.
After being involved with the program for eight years and previously being named as part of FireSmart’s Canada Communities Recognition Program, the RMOW decided not to participate in any FireSmart work in 2012 partly because they were awaiting final word on the recovery of funding for past projects.
“There were differences in determining how much we were to be reimbursed, so there was an ongoing discussion between our administration and the administration of the program and that was finally resolved, and we finally got our money,” said Wilhelm-Morden. “Part of the reason for the delay was just sorting out with the program what is recoverable and what isn’t, so that when we move into the program next year, we’ve got a clear understanding and so do they.”
The muni did, however, incorporate “FireSmart principles in all development permit areas” in 2012, according to a statement from RMOW spokesperson Michele Comeau last month, and have passed bylaws to help reduce the danger of human-started wildfires, including the implementation of burning bans and limiting construction when fire ratings are high.
Wildfire safety is a main concern for Whistler as most homes in the community were built close to heavily forested areas and were constructed before wildfire awareness was a concern for developers, meaning there are inadequate entry and exit routes for fire rescue teams in the case of an emergency in “more than 50 per cent” of the town’s neighbourhoods, according to municipal Fire Chief Rob Whitton.
“If we have a wildfire and an area is involved that I know has only one way in, I can’t send crews in there,” he said in an interview last month.
Municipal officials have previously stated their willingness to look at possible wildfire prevention measures in the future like mandating fire-resistant siding and roofing materials for all new homes and requiring developers to fireproof their properties before construction could begin.
Meanwhile last week the province announced funding changes to the program in 2013. Future FireSmart projects can expect to receive 90 per cent of the project costs with an annual cap of $400,000 for municipalities. Previously, the initiative provided 90 per cent of the project funding up to $100,000 and 75 per cent of the remaining cost, up to a maximum of $400,000 per year.